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Several States Work To Prevent Data Sharing About Immigration Status


When we apply for driver's licenses, pay taxes or do any number of other mundane tasks, we share our personal information with the government. Now under the Trump administration, many immigrants are concerned about how that information could be used against them. California is one of several states moving to tighten privacy laws. From member station KQED, Katie Orr reports.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.

KATIE ORR, BYLINE: At a recent protest against increased federal immigration enforcement in Sacramento, Juan Aguilar stood among a group of people waving large American and Mexican flags. Aguilar is a U.S. citizen, but most of his family, including his dad, lives here illegally.

JUAN AGUILAR: My father - he travels a lot - San Diego, Fresno, Sacramento, LA, all over. And all he's trying to do is have enough money to support all of us.

ORR: Aguilar worries his father will be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and attract the attention of federal immigration agents. In California, it's possible to get a driver's license regardless of your immigration status. That means the state has personal data for hundreds of thousands of people living in California illegally.

The DMV says the immigration status of drivers is not indicated in databases shared with law enforcement. Still, lawmakers like State Senator Ricardo Lara have introduced several bills meant to better protect personal data collected by the state. That includes one that would limit state agencies to collecting only the information they need to process applications.

RICARDO LARA: We have to move quickly to protect the data that we have in terms of folks that have trusted in our state government to be able to offer critical services that are important to them.

ORR: Another high-profile bill from the Senate leader would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources for immigration enforcement purposes. That bill is moving rapidly through the Democratic-controlled legislature and stands a good chance of passing.

At least half a dozen states mostly dominated by Democrats have adopted or proposed similar policies. Here in California, the law enforcement community has opposed these measures. Bill Johnson is executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.

BILL JOHNSON: There's a great risk of the delegitimization of laws in general where legislatures or judges can kind of pick and choose which laws they want to enforce, which laws they want to obey.

ORR: Johnson says states are playing politics when they decide to withhold information.

JOHNSON: States such as California have no problem sharing data with the federal government if it means more money for the state of California, whether it's how many people are using the highways or bridges, how many people reside in the state, so forth.

ORR: A recent executive order from President Trump would allow state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Jill Bronfman with the Privacy and Technology Project at UC Hastings says moves like that show states are justified in cutting the feds off from access to some data.

JILL BRONFMAN: I see their interest. I don't know what their plans are, but I already have ideas about defensive maneuvers for that sort of scenario.

ORR: Bronfman says given how fast policies are changing at the federal level, states need to be ready. For NPR News, I'm Katie Orr in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAI WOLF SONG, "INDIAN SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Orr